Amazon has announced its set-top media box. It’s called the Amazon Fire TV, and it is the closest thing Amazon offers to an Apple TV rival. It's already available in the US and now it has a UK release date of October 23rd.
Fire TV is also a natural extension of the Kindle Fire Android tablets Amazon has produced for a few years now. But is it really better than an Apple TV? Here are the main differences between the two.
Point 1 – DesignThese are both absolutely tiny boxes. They will not dominate your under-TV area like an Xbox One.
However, their designs are a little different. The Fire TV is a sharp-edged rectangle while the Apple TV has a curvy footprint. Apple’s design looks more lounge-friendly, but then what else would you expect from Apple?
Point 1 - They’re selling different servicesYou can do quite a lot of things with both the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but they are fundamentally out to sell you onto the audio and video services offered by their makers.
For Apple TV, it is the iTunes library of movies, TV episodes and videos. Amazon wants us to use Prime Instant Video, its streaming and rental/purchase service, and Amazon MP3, its digital music store. Amazon started out its digital distribution life flogging books through the Kindle Store, but to suggest you might want to read novels on your TV is probably a stretch.
Point 2 – Fire TV runs Android, Apple TV a proprietary OSIn common with most of Amazon’s other gadgets, Fire TV runs Android. Apple TV uses proprietary Apple software that isn’t shared with other Apple devices.
The interfaces of the two are quite similar, though, because Fire TV uses a heavy custom Android skin, rather than the usual Android interface. It’s made using HTML5 and is reportedly extremely slick.
Both interfaces are very media-centric, with movie and music pages that use artwork to fill your TV screens.
Point 3 – Fire TV is relatively open, Apple TV is notIt does not sound like Fire TV will give you full access to every Android game and app under the sun, but you will be able to download extra apps – most likely from the Amazon apps interface built up for the Kindle Fire tablets line-up.
Apple TV offers a few apps, but the selection is extremely limited. You do not get access to the iTunes App Store line-up with the box - Netflix is about as far as you can get.
Point 4 – Fire TV is much better for gamingHaving a wider apps library to call on makes the Fire TV instantly a much better gaming companion than an Apple TV. With an Apple TV you can AirPlay a game from your iPhone to your TV, but it doesn’t have a games library of its own.
The Fire TV will have its own games collection, and you’ll be able to control play with either your mobile phone (using an app), the remote control (will only work effectively with certain titles) or the new Amazon game controller – which looks oddly like the OnLive controller.
Amazon says it is working with publishers including Disney, 2K, Double Fine, EA, Sega, TellTalle and Ubisoft to bring games to Fire TV. What you can expect are Android games with some slight control tweaks for the various Fire TV control methods. But that’s not bad, especially with some of these big names involved.
Point 5 – Fire TV is much more powerful than Apple TVA game collection wouldn’t be much use without a good amount of power on tap. But the Fire TV is much more powerful than Apple TV.
It has a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. We can’t pin down performance with these vague tech specs, but Amazon claims it is three times faster than Apple TV or Chromecast.
The Apple TV uses an Apple A5 processor, the same generation of chip used by the iPad 2. As all of Amazon’s recent Kindle tablets have used Snapdragon processors, it seems likely that the Fire TV may follow suit.
But will it be a Snapdragon 800? A lower-end Snapdragon 400? We’ll be looking for clarification on this, but we expect a mid-range CPU rather than a high-end one. However, now that the Snapdragon 800 is an old model, its inclusion is possible but highly unlikely.
Point 6 – A look at the remote controlsThe Fire TV has a slightly more involved remote control than the Apple TV. Both have a scroll wheel as their main control interface, but where the Apple TV has two additional buttons, the Fire TV has seven.
Why? Most of the extra functions are built into the Apple TV remote control, as part of the clicky scroll wheel.
Point 7 – ConnectivityThe main connectors of the Fire TV and Apple TV are nearly identical. You have an HDMI socket for audio and video transfer, and an extra optical audio output – which will come in handy if you use an older home cinema receiver.
There are no headphone jacks or memory card slots, but Fire TV does have a USB port. For that kind of thing you’re better off with a pure media player – not one that’s hooked into one of these appy ecosystems.
Point 8 – Price and AvailabilityFire TV has only been announced for the US. And in the US it’ll be available from today, for just $99.
However, we currently have no idea when the box will come to the UK, or how much it’ll cost (we imagine around the £89 mark). Amazon has a habit of leaving the UK out of its launches at first – it took us an absolute age to get its Kindle Fire tablets.
Next, read our Netflix vs Amazon Prime Instant Video comparison